Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

Are people in hell repentant?

October 19, 2017

I’m currently teaching a Bible study on the parables of Jesus in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. A few weeks ago, we looked at the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31.

Recently some Bible scholars and theologians have rejected the depiction of hell in this parable. The parable isn’t about hell, they say. Jesus was merely adapting a well-known (at the time) Jewish folk tale to make a theological point about something other than perdition.

That may be true for all I know, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus’ words about hell aren’t truthful.

After all, Jesus didn’t tell us the Parable of the Good Samaritan in order to describe the highway connecting Jerusalem with Jericho, but the road that he describes certainly existed! With its twists and turns, it afforded many hiding places for brigands to rob passersby, as they do in the parable. Even though the highway isn’t the point of the parable, the setting is a real place, and Jesus describes it accurately.

My point is, I believe we can learn a lot about hell from this parable.

In my Bible study, we discussed whether the rich man was truly repentant. After all, instead of begging forgiveness of the poor beggar, Lazarus, whom the rich man mistreated throughout his life, he instead wanted him to leave his place of comfort to fetch him water—even through the flames—and warn his brothers of their fate.

Even in hell, it seems, the rich man still wanted to treat Lazarus with condescension or contempt, just as he did in the world.

But there’s another clue that the rich man remained unrepentant, as Clay Jones points out in a chapter called “How Can Eternal Punishment Be Fair” in his recent book Why Does God Allow Evil?

Further, the rich man’s suggestion that his brothers needed to be warned betrays a lack of repentance because it implies that he ended up in hell because God didn’t provide him with sufficient warning. Finally, the rich man disagreed with Abraham’s assertions hat the Law of Moses was sufficient evidence to lead his brothers into repentance. As R.C. Trench says, the rich man’s “contempt of God’s word,” which he showed on earth, follows him “beyond the grave.” Ironically, Lazarus was the name of a man who did come back from the dead [See John 11], and the chief priests responded to this resurrection by trying to kill both Jesus and the resurrected Lazarus (John 12:9-10)![1]

Why is lack of repentance important? One of the biggest fears that we Christians have about hell is that people who go there will realize immediately that they were wrong, will want to repent, but will be unable to. In at least a couple of his apologetic works, The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis argues against this idea, saying that the doors of hell are “locked from the inside.” In other words, in some twisted way the people who are in hell will want to be there—at least more than they’ll want the alternative, which would involve their humbling themselves before their Creator and repenting.

I’ve always hoped that Lewis was right about this. Whether he is or not, I have no doubt that God will be perfectly just. But until I read Dr. Jones’s book, I had never considered the biblical evidence for Lewis’s point of view.

1. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 100.

Why isn’t God’s presence more obvious?

October 6, 2017

In light of this week’s tragedy in Las Vegas, I’m preaching a one-shot sermon this Sunday called “Where Is God in the Midst of Tragedies.” My text is Luke 13:1-9. In my view, this scripture is Jesus’ most important word on evil and suffering. At the very least, it speaks directly to modern objections to God’s existence based on the “moral problem” of evil. I preached what I’m sure was a theologically and biblically inadequate sermon on this text back in 2010. I’m almost afraid to re-read it now!

Still, in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, I’m currently reading Clay Jones’s Why Does God Allow Evil. Among other things, he expands on ideas he debated on an outstanding Unbelievable? podcast in 2015. I admire the forcefulness and clarity with which he approaches a subject that most of us only approach with great caution. Perhaps he’s fearless because, as he says in the book’s introduction, when we understand who we are as sinful human beings, the so-called “problem of evil” vanishes. After all, no one asks, “Why do bad things happen to bad people?”

I don’t disagree with him.

In fact, I’ve been blogging for a while about how ill-equipped most contemporary Methodists are in dealing with questions of human or natural evil. Remember this official UMC article on the recent hurricanes? Most Methodist thinkers say something inadequate like, “We don’t know why there’s evil, but God is with us!”

Regardless, one nagging apologetic concern I have struggled with more recently is the apparent “hiddenness” of God. Why does God not make his presence more obvious to people whom he otherwise wants to save?

Dr. Jones tackles this question nicely:

If God wants us to be significantly free (know the kind of freedom we now possess), then God can’t make His presence too apparent; He can’t make His presence too “saturated.” His presence in the world is not smothering, like an overbearing parent. He is not an ever-present “helicopter God” (philosophers call this epistemic distance or divine hiddenness). This is so because if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge. As C.S. Lewis put it, “there must perhaps always be just enough lack of demonstrative certainty to make free choice possible: for what could we do but accept if the faith were like the multiplication table?” In other words, if Christianity were unmistakably true, then people would have less free will and they would be compelled to feign loyalty. For example, I’ve asked guys, “If you were getting up to speak at a podium, and there were cameras on you, and an audience watching you, and if there were a pornographic magazine on the podium, would you open it or even look down at the cover?” Of course the answer is always no. Why? Because they know that everyone is watching them! Similarly, God could make His presence and His power so evident that everyone would always do the right thing—whether they wanted to or not. But that would interfere with our acting freely.[†]

What would be wrong if the truth of God and his gospel were as obvious to us as the multiplication table? After all, we would know that God exists. We would know that the doctrines of Christianity are true. We would, in a sense, “believe in” Jesus.

But this wouldn’t be true faith. As I said in my recent sermon, “Dead Faith Can’t Save Us,” genuine faith is not merely knowing facts about God; it’s not agreeing to a set of propositions. It’s also entrusting ourselves to God—out of love for him and gratitude to him. It’s being loyal to him. Without this “epistemic distance,” as Jones says, we would “feign loyalty.” True faith may never take root and grow.

So without God’s “hiddenness,” the vast majority of people would believe in God, but they wouldn’t have faith in God. There’s a big difference!

Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017), 112.

Sermon 06-18-17: “A Loving Father and His Younger Son”

July 12, 2017

Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

For Father’s Day, I began a two-part series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, otherwise known as the Parable of the Loving Father. This sermon focuses on the more popular part of the parable: the story of the younger son, from Luke 15:11-24. Even six or seven years ago, I thought the younger son’s story was for new converts to the faith—that it didn’t “apply” to those of us who have been Christians for a while. Of course, now I see how foolish that is. In this sermon, I challenge us to think about ways in which we’re a lot like the younger son.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-2, 11-24

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

A couple of weeks ago, this headline appeared on The Babylon Bee, that satirical Christian news website: “Father of 3 Wonders When He’ll Get Chance to Influence Others for Christ.” This fake news article continues:

Stating that he had been feeling a sense of purposelessness and melancholy for some months now, local father of three Andrew Harbaugh recently began wondering when he would ever get a chance to impact anyone for the sake of Christ, sources close to him confirmed Thursday.

Harbaugh reportedly spends his days working ten hours at a desk job and his nights talking and playing with his three children.

“I just wish God would place a few people in my life for whom I could make an eternal difference,” Harbaugh told reporters, his head in his hands. “I just don’t have time to do anything for the Kingdom of God while I provide for my family and spend time with my three boys.”

“Surely the Lord will have something important for me to do someday,” he added sadly.

You see the irony, I hope. Like Mr. Harbaugh in this article, each one of us who is a father has a God-given opportunity—a God-given responsibility—to do the most important work for God’s kingdom possible, which is this: sharing with our children the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ through our words and through our actions. We are to live out what it means to be a Christian.

Now, I’m not saying that these words don’t apply to equally to mothers, but since it’s Father’s Day, I’m aiming them at us fathers. Or grandfathers—because this still applies to you: The most important mission that God has given us in life right now is to do everything we can to “go and make disciples” of our children and our grandchildren. And we don’t get to outsource this holy work of discipleship to our wives alone. Being a disciple of Jesus, being involved in church, praying and reading the Bible with our children, is not women’s work! Please, fathers, for the sake of our children’s souls, let’s not shirk our responsibility! If we are to be “imitators of God,” as the apostle Paul says[1]—and we can learn a lot about God our Father from this today’s scripture—then we ought to imitate God in his passion for bringing his children—our children—into a saving relationship with him through Christ! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-09-17: “Your King Is Coming to You”

April 26, 2017

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry, he was sending the world a message: “I am the world’s true king.” This sermon challenges us to consider the meaning of Christ’s kingship over our lives and world. Are there ways in which we resist his kingship? How is Christ calling us to change?

Sermon Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria ordered a chemical attack against rebel-held area in his country, which killed at least 86 civilians, including 28 children. The attack injured another 550. The chemical he used contained Sarin nerve gas: which closes its victims’ windpipes so they can’t breathe; it causes a stabbing pain in their eyes; it makes them feel as if their bodies are on fire; and it makes their heads feel as if they’re going to explode. It is a ghastly way to die—which is why it’s banned as a weapon of conventional warfare.

So it was within this context that the United States fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at the air force base that launched the chemical attacks.

I hope it’s effective. Whether it proves to be or not, it’s easy to imagine that Assad’s victims—and/or the families of his victims—felt at least a small measure of vindication when they heard about the U.S. strike. Not that the U.S. attack begins to make right what Assad did, but at least it’s something. Can you imagine how strongly the victims and their families desire that justice be done? Can you imagine how strongly they desire that the perpetrators of this evil be punished?

If you can imagine it, then you can get a sense of what the crowds in today’s scripture must have been feeling as they cheered Jesus on—hailing him as their Messiah and king—the one who would finally balance the scales of justice and punish the wrongdoers. After all, the people in the crowd knew all about the President Assads of the world—whether his name was Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or Caesar. Many of them had witnessed firsthand atrocities that were the first-century equivalent of sarin gas attacks on their loved ones—just as their ancestors had witnessed atrocities against their loved ones for hundreds of years. Read the rest of this entry »

C.S. Lewis and the parable of the dog and its owner

February 2, 2017

Today’s edition of “What C.S. Lewis said.”

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount, which we started looking at in last week’s sermon, with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in heart… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the peacemakers,” etc. Another word for “blessed” is happy—specifically, to be made deeply happy by God. Indeed, a few modern translations substitute the word “happy” for “blessed”—no doubt because translators perceive that “blessed” has an old-fashioned ring to it. 

But I still like “blessed.” In fact, I like the recent phenomenon of being wished a “blessed day” rather than a “nice day”—because it reminds me where true happiness comes from.

My point is, God wants us to be truly and deeply happy. He wants us to be blessed.

Yet, as we turn our attention to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it can often seem as if God were trying to thwart happiness at every turn. Jesus makes a series of seemingly impossible (or literally impossible) demands on every aspect of our lives. (We’ll look at one of those demands this week.) If we buy into our culture’s idea that being happy is a matter of “getting in touch with ourselves,” of “being who we truly are,” Jesus’ sermon will feel like a splash of cold water.

Why is God so demanding, so uncompromising, when it comes to telling us how to live?

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, C.S. Lewis shares the following parable (h/t Trevin Wax), which can shed light on the answer:

Supposing you are taking a dog on a lead through a turnstile or past a post. You know what happens (apart from his usual ceremonies in passing a post!). He tries to go to the wrong side and gets his head looped round the post. You see that he can’t do it, and therefore pull him back. You pull him back because you want to enable him to go forward. He wants exactly the same thing—namely to go forward: for that very reason he resists your pull back, or, if he is an obedient dog, yields to it reluctantly as a matter of duty which seems to him to be quite in opposition to his own will: though in fact it is only by yielding to you that he will ever succeed in getting where he wants.

In this parable, the dog and its owner both want the same thing: to move forward. Likewise, we want the same thing that God wants for us: to be happy. Like the dog in the parable, we don’t know how to make that happen. And in our misguided efforts to do so, we get ourselves tangled up. This is what the Bible describes as sin. God, however, knows how to untangle us and get us moving in the right direction. But even this is an understatement, considering that the intellectual distance between us and God is infinitely greater than the intellectual distance between a dog and its owner.

Do we believe that God knows what’s best for us? If we say we do, are we living in a way that’s consistent with this belief? If not, what changes do we need to make?

Ask the Holy Spirit to identify and give you power to make those changes.

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 21: The Chief End of Man

December 21, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 2:20

glory_cover_finalJohn Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, used a revised version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648 to teach the Christian faith to new believers. The first article of the catechism is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

In other words, the most important thing that we human beings are supposed to do is what we see the shepherds doing when they leave the holy family at the manger: glorifying God. Yet I don’t think I’m alone when I say that, outside of Sunday morning worship services, I spend little time thinking about glorifying God. Why?

C.S. Lewis explores this problem in his book Reflections on the Psalms:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—”Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (And why, incidentally, did praising God so often consist in telling other people to praise Him?…)[1]

Of course, unlike any tin-pot dictator, God is the one object that perfectly deserves all of our praise all the time. He doesn’t need it, but we need to do it—for the same reason, Lewis says, that we need to praise a great work of art, only infinitely more so:

The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather like this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away,” and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something… He is that Object to admire which (or, if you like, to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all…

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.[2]

Nothing, Lewis says, brings us greater delight than to praise what we enjoy. To praise is to “complete” the enjoyment; it is, Lewis writes, “its appointed consummation.”

If this is true of everything that is less than God, how much more true is it of God? Lewis even refers to the catechism when he writes the following:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[3]

Is glorifying God a priority in your life? Think of five things right now for which God deserves your thanks and praise. Spend time worshiping him.

1. C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms” in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1986), 177.

2. Ibid., 178-9.

3. Ibid., 180.

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 15: Mercies in Disguise

December 15, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 1:42, 45, 48

glory_cover_finalThe first chapter of Luke tells us in many ways that Mary is “blessed” by God. But what a strange kind of blessing it was! Blessed to be pregnant out of wedlock—with all the scandalous gossip and innuendo that came with it! Blessed to have an incredibly difficult conversation with her fiancé, who doesn’t at first believe her when she tells him she didn’t cheat on him. Blessed to have to flee for her life to a foreign land with Joseph and Jesus in order to escape the murderous clutches of King Herod. Blessed with the heartache of losing her son for three days while he was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Blessed to watch her son grow up and face opposition and hostility—even from the people he grew up with. Blessed to stand at the foot of the cross and watch him die! Blessed for those three days between his death and resurrection.

To say the least, God’s idea of “blessing” is often different from our own. To be blessed by God doesn’t mean to be free from trouble or pain.

Singer-songwriter Laura Story captures this truth in her song “Blessings.” It includes these words:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

When we experience trouble and pain in this life, it’s often because God loves us too much to let us settle for the “lesser things” that we want.

Do you trust that God knows what we need more than we do? Can you name an experience in which your trials were God’s “mercies in disguise”? Do you agree with this statement by C.S. Lewis? “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Why or why not?

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 3: A Place of Training and Correction

December 3, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 1:11-25

glory_cover_finalPoor Zechariah! The father of the child who will grow up to be John the Baptist gets punished because he doubts the angel’s promise that he and his wife will have a child.

But not so fast. “Punishment” might be too harsh a word. The Bible tells us that our heavenly Father disciplines his children for the same reason that human parents discipline their own children: because he loves us (Hebrews 12:6) and wants to shape us into better people. As the apostle James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

C.S. Lewis, using the old-fashioned word “punishment,” puts it like this:

I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a “cruel” doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were “punishments.” But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a “punishment,” it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.[†]

“It’s not so bad,” indeed!

Even this year, I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety about my health—including a biopsy which returned a “suspicious” verdict from the pathologist before a second, larger sample ruled out cancer.

For someone who is already a borderline hypochondriac, this wasn’t easy for me. But because God is sovereign, I know that God allowed it to happen for a reason. For one thing, it forced me to my knees in prayer, which is always a good place to be.

I can see how God used this anxiety about my health as “punishment”—or discipline—to teach me to trust in the Lord more.

Do you believe, like Lewis, that this world is meant for our “training and correction”? How have difficult experiences made you a better person? Take a few moments to thank God for the ways in which he’s disciplined you.

C.S. Lewis, “Money Trouble” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1123.

Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, Part 3: How do we “enjoy God”?

November 17, 2016

jwc_the_shorter_catechism_front_cvr_smTo refresh your memory, the first article of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which Wesley endorsed without revision, is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

A couple of years ago, on William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast, Dr. Craig described a sermon he had recently heard, which attacked the commonplace idea that love is more “decision” than feeling:

I attended Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada. One of the pastors there is Erik Thoennes who is a Professor of Theology at Biola University. He is a very insightful theologian and a wise man. His text for his sermon was Hebrews 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.” He gave a whole sermon on just those few words. The sermon was just filled with all sorts of nuggets of wisdom that I found very provocative and helpful. One of them was his criticism of the view that love doesn’t involve emotions. One will very frequently hear it said that love is not a feeling, love is a decision. This will often be said in marriage counseling situations, for example, where you may not feel love for your spouse anymore but you make a decision, “I will love her” (or “him”) and we will work through this problem.

Kevin Harris: Make a commitment.

Dr. Craig: Or with someone else that is particularly disagreeable – a boss or family member or even perhaps a persecutor. It is very often said that when we are commanded to love others – even love our enemy – that this is a decision. It is not some sort of emotional feeling. Thoennes was disagreeing with that, which has become I think sort of the conventional wisdom. He said this can lead to the attitude, “Well, I have to love you but I don’t have to like you.” So, you can regard other people in such a way that you don’t really have any affection or feeling for them, but you treat them in a loving way. He said that’s true – that with many people, we never can get past that point in our lives. There will be people for whom we never have the chance to really build an emotional bond of affection.

Kevin Harris: But we love them anyway.

Dr. Craig: Yes, we treat them in loving ways. We make a decision to act in a loving way toward them whether we have those feelings or not. And he recognized that. But he said if you think that that is all that love is – that that is the end goal of love – then he says you have fallen short. He says a full and mature love will involve a genuine affection for the other person. This is a reflection of the way that God loves us. He said that he’s afraid that many people may think of God’s love for them as a love that is without affection. They think, “Well, God loves me but he doesn’t really like me.” When you think of what that would do in your relationship to God, I think you can imagine how debilitating that would be if you think that God really doesn’t like you as a person. But he sort of tolerates you and loves you because he has to. It is almost as though if love were not an essential property of God, if he were freed from the necessity of loving you, then he really wouldn’t love you if he didn’t have to. Read the rest of this entry »

Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, Part 1: “The chief end of man”

November 8, 2016

jwc_the_shorter_catechism_front_cvr_smWhile I was in Chicago last month at the inaugural Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting, I browsed a vendor’s table set up by Seedbed, the publishing arm of Asbury Seminary, Methodism’s premier orthodox, evangelical seminary. An attractive series of paperbacks caught my eye: “The John Wesley Collection.” They include essential writings of John Wesley, alongside Wesley’s revisions of other writings that he believed would edify fellow Methodists.

One of these books, which I purchased, was Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, literally a revision of the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648. As far as I knew from my unorthodox, un-evangelical mainline Protestant seminary education, the Westminster Catechism wasn’t for us Wesleyan Arminians; it was for the Reformed—Presbyterians and the like.

I never knew, prior to purchasing this book, that Wesley had any use for it.

In fact, after revising or omitting articles dealing with the “decrees of God,” sanctification, and the Calvinist understanding of predestination, Wesley recommended its use for Methodist catechumens. (Please note: in spite of his revisions, he left the vast majority of its articles unchanged.)

The book contains not only the catechism with Wesley’s revisions and scripture proof-texts, but also James A. Macdonald’s century-old commentary on it. Without this commentary, of course, the revision would hardly be book-length!

All that to say, starting today, I’m going to begin a new series of blog posts on this book. So let me begin at the beginning:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Wesley’s proof-texts in the margin are 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, and Psalm 73:25-28.

Out of the gate, these words challenge and convict me. Not only are we to glorify God, this is the main thing that we human beings are supposed to do. God has created us to give him glory.

We can glorify God whether we think about doing so or not, which is good because—in my experience as a Methodist—most of us spend little time thinking about it. Why?

I wonder if it’s not because of a “stumbling block” to the doctrine that C.S. Lewis discusses in his book Reflections on the Psalms:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—”Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (And why, incidentally, did praising God so often consist in telling other people to praise Him?…)[1]

You get the idea: If God were as “virtuous” as we are, he wouldn’t need us to glorify him. And thus—as we too often do with doctrines related to God’s wrath, blood atonement, and hell—we allow ourselves to feel, however faintly, morally superior to the biblical authors.

Of course, unlike any tin-pot dictator, God is the one object that perfectly deserves all of our praise all the time. He doesn’t need it, but we need to do it—for the same reason, Lewis says, that we need to praise a great work of art, only infinitely more so:

The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather like this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away,” and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something… He is that Object to admire which (or, if you like, to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all…

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.[2]

Nothing brings us greater delight than to praise what we enjoy. To praise is to “complete” the enjoyment; it is, Lewis writes, “its appointed consummation.”

If this is true of everything that is less than God, how much more true is it of God? Lewis even refers to the catechism:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[3]

Not being an expert on or “fanboy” of John Piper (although I admire him, Calvinist or not, as one of his generation’s most gifted preachers), I suspect this idea is at the heart of his famous maxim, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

If the first article of the Shorter Catechism is true, so is Piper’s maxim. Here’s one Methodist pastor who isn’t ashamed to say so.

James Macdonald’s commentary also relates our Wesleyan understanding of sanctification and perfection to this article. I’ll say more about that in a future post.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions: “Do I enjoy God? If so, when? Is the enjoyment of God a priority in my life? Why or why not?”

1. C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms” in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1986), 177.

2. Ibid., 178-9.

3. Ibid., 180.